The Art of Science: Cold, Hard Data in Warm, Soft Wood

Adrien Segal, Snow Water Equivalent, 2012

Adrien Segal, Snow Water Equivalent Cabinet, 2012

Data are hard. Snow is cold. And yet artist Adrien Segal chose wood, a warm, yielding material, to visualize snowpack data, to stunning effect.  This design of this remarkable, functional sculpture, Snow Water Equivalent Cabinet, is based on 31 years of snowpack measurements recorded by a SNOTEL sensor at Ebbetts Pass in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The SNOTEL (snowpack telemetry) network, operated by the USDA’s National Water and Climate Center, calculates the amount of water contained in the snowpack of mountains in the western US. The data are used to forecast water supplies in the face of a changing climate.

Each drawer of the Snow Water Equivalent Cabinet represents one year of data. Segal explains:

“The sculpted plywood front is a three dimensional graph of the amount of water in the snow-pack at any given time during the water year, showing specifically the first snowfall, peak amount of water, and final snowmelt as changes occur from year to year. The size of each drawer is directly related to the amount of water in the snowpack, the smaller the drawer the less water stored, and the less storage space available in the drawer.”

The California-based artist says that her work integrates scientific research, data visualization, aesthetic interpretation, and materiality in an attempt to “to reconcile scientific conventions of reason and fact with an intuitive sensory experience.”

You can see more of Segal’s work at her website.

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